The Speed of Light

pierre bonnard’s color-time continuum.

Pierre Bonnard, The White Interior, 1932

There is always color, it has yet to become light.

Pierre Bonnard

It’s not just the colors that radiate in a Bonnard; there’s also the heat of mixed emotions, rubbed into smoothness, shrouded in chromatic veils and intensified by unexpected spatial conundrums and by elusive, uneasy figures.

Roberta Smith

Roberta Smith’s review of Pierre Bonnard: The Late Interiors at the Metropolitan Museum of Art makes an intriguing connection between color and time. “As we move from canvas to canvas,” she writes, “we feel the days pass and time stand still. Everything moves around, but nothing changes.” As Bonnard’s vessel for light, color conveys the moment between time and timelessness, stillness and action, then…and now. We don’t look into the future in these paintings, but poise ourselves between past and present. Reflection and reaction merge. Meditation and motion blur.

As Smith evocatively notes: “The time in the paintings is also deepened by furtive movements and rustlings, mostly thanks to Bonnard’s figures. They often seem to shift about, partly because we can look right at them for a while before we actually see them. Our shock that they have been there all along, or have just arrived, somehow prolongs the painting into an event.” An event occurs, or does it? Or did it? Something mysterious happens in these paintings as nothing happens. There aren’t any stories, really. Only a flash—a pause, caesura, a blink—as color becomes light and time turns into space.

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